There are 35 items in X-COM that can be manufactured, but if all costs are taken into account, only 14 of them can be manufactured for a profit.
You cannot manufacture an item until you have researched it, so you begin the game unable to manufacture any items at all. Depending on your research priorities, there are several early items that can be made for a profit: Motion Scanners, Medi-Kits, Laser Pistols and Laser Rifles. For more on research times and prerequisites, see Research.
Fusion Ball Launchers and Laser Cannons can be researched in the early-mid game, and are the two most profitable items that can be produced in all of X-COM. Refer to the profit tables for a detailed breakdown.
To calculate true (net) manufacturing profit, the following must be accounted for:
- Manufacturing cost -- the value shown on the manufacturing screen.
- Cost of Elerium-115 ($5k each) and Alien Alloys ($6.5k each), if required. Also, cost of UFO Power Source(s) ($500k each) and UFO Navigation ($80k each) for XCOM craft.
- Cost of Engineer salaries, at $25k per month per Engineer.
- Cost of Workshops ($35k/month) and Living Quarters ($10k/month) sufficient for the number of engineers employed.
These costs are then compared against the Sell price, to determine profitability.
There is a startup cost associated with manufacturing: 50 Engineers cost $2.5 million to hire and require a Workshop ($800,000 to build) and a Living Quarters ($400,000), for a total of $3.7 million. Workshops also require a lead time of 32 days to build. Since you start the game with one Workshop and 10 Engineers, your first Workshop will only cost $2.4 million to fully ramp up (the cost of 40 Engineers and one Living Quarters).
There is also a time and cost factor associated with researching profitable items -- for instance, Heavy Lasers plus Laser Cannons require an average of 880 Scientist days to research (costing about $900,000 in salary). This is in addition to the 450 or so Scientist days required to research Laser Weapons, Laser Pistol, and Laser Rifle.
Workshop space overhead
Each manufacturing project takes up a fixed amount of workshop space, reducing the number of Engineers you can gainfully employ. With multiple workshops, the impact of this overhead is reduced: two workshops are proportionally 5%-7% more profitable than a single workshop would be (depending on the item being produced), and five workshops are as much as 11% more profitable.
The following is a list of selected items that are popular with players attempting to manufacture items for profit. Note that not all these items actually turn a profit, once all costs are factored in.
Monthly profits, based on a one-workshop operation. Figures in thousands (000's) where noted.
|Item||Hrs. per unit||Max Engrs.||Unit sell price
|Gross per unit
|Units per month||Labor cost
|Net monthly profit|
|Fusion Ball Launcher||400||44||281.1||242||6.5||32.6||80.52||1,145||1,480|
- Hrs. per unit are the number of hours needed by one engineer to build a single unit
- Max Engrs. equals 50 minus the amount of workshop space taken up by the project
- Unit sell price is what the item will sell for on the Sell/Sack screen
- Unit cost is what each item costs to produce, on the Production screen
- Spec. costs is $6,500 for each Alien Alloy and $5,000 for each Elerium, if any
- Gross per unit is its sell price, minus production and special materials costs
- Units per month is how many units a fully-staffed workshop can turn out: 732 hours (30.5 days) divided by Engineer hours per unit, times Max Engineers employable
- Labor cost is Max Engineers times $25,000 (monthly salary) -- plus $35,000 for Workshop maintenance costs and $10,000 for Living Quarters
- Net monthly profit is Gross profit times Units per month minus Labor cost
For a detailed listing of the profitability of all items in X-COM, with figures for 1 to 5 workshops, download MikeTheRed's XCOM_Profit_Tables.pdf. Or for an Excel (editable) spreadsheet, get XCOM_Profits.xls.
Laser Cannons vs. Fusion Ball Launchers
There is an oddity in XCOM which can make the Fusion Ball Launcher (FBL) appear to be the most profitable item. The oddity is that the first FBL you produce does not require an Alien Alloy (and thus, no Alien Alloy requirement appears on the manufacturing screen). If in doubt, watch your Alien Alloy stores while manufacturing. This oddity has caused a fair bit of confusion; some (particularly older docs) say Fusion Ball Launchers are the most profitable.
Without requiring the alloys, the FBL would be about 2% more profitable than the Laser Cannon. However, when the Alien Alloys are taken into account, it falls well behind Laser Cannon. Due to the micromanagement needed to repeatedly restart manufacturing versus the very small gain, few players will build one FBL at a time -- thus, the Laser Cannon is the most profitable item "in real life". Anyway, now you know... and it's your choice. :)
Laser Cannons are also more readily researched than Fusion Ball Launchers. The average research time needed to produce Laser Cannons is 1330 hours (26.6 days for 50 Scientists), whereas Fusion Ball Launchers require 2080 hours (41.6 days). Furthermore, about 1/3 of the time needed for researching Laser Cannons is spent researching Laser Pistols and Rifles, which you are likely to research early on anyway.
Notes, Tips, Tricks, Etc.
- The maximum number of engineers you can assign to a project, equals the number of engineer hours it requires. In other words, the game "enforces" that you can only build one item per hour, at most. Example: You can only assign 60 engineers at most to work on a plasma pistol clip, which requires 60 engineer hours. The tables above don't take this into account, but then, small-fry products are usually not made by a large operation, anyway.
- You cannot have more than one project of the same type going at the same base. (This otherwise might've been a way "around" the limit of one per hour at most.) However, you can make that thing at some other base.
- Excess/wasted Workshop and Living Quarters are only a miniscule part of your costs. Example: A large operation (four workshops) might have 184 engineers instead of the optimal 194 for Laser Cannons (because of an occasional need to drop back and making flying suits, craft, etc. - it's a balance of constantly wasted space versus occasionally wasted engineers). The "wasted" 10 WS and LQ spaces only cost $9k/month ($45k*10/50), which is only 0.11% of the $8.3M/month that the 184 engineers make when producing LCs.
- Likewise, profits generally scale linearly according to number of workshops (two full workshops make only a little bit more than twice the profit of one full workshop, etc.). Many projects only require a handful of workspace requirements, and are almost totally linear. However, some projects have a large workspace requirement, such as the Laser Tank (25). With only one workshop, the Laser Tank only makes 39% of the profit that Laser Cannons would, whereas they make 64% of Laser Cannons with five workshops. The real reason they do so poorly with one workshop is much less due to the wasted overhead of workshop and living quarters; it is mainly because you can only assign 25 engineers with one workshop, versus 44 for Laser Cannons.
- Those who know XCOM, know that it suffers from integer truncation in a number of places. This could've hurt profitability badly if it occurred there; for example, if an item needs 100 engineer hours but you only assign 99, it might've taken twice as long, and halved your production and profit potential. Fortunately, this is not the case with manufacturing; it does not truncate production time this way.
- There is an exploit that lets the sneaky make items for free - but only one at a time.
- Another exploit involves transferring staff at the end of the month to avoid salaries. Eliminating salary costs makes Laser Cannons about 50% more profitable to produce.
- Factoid 1: The Heavy Plasma Clip is the most unprofitable item to make, due to the facts that it can be quickly made, but requires 3 Elerium. Be careful what you ask for!
- Factoid 2: Strange as it may seem, XCOM craft are not the most unprofitable items in the game, even though they are very expensive to make, and you can't sell them. (High cost, zero sales.) This is because craft take a long time to make, whereas other items can be made quickly, but incorporate expensive components. Their extreme costs override the fact that they can actually be sold. :P
- In UFO: Enemy Unknown (and most likely all the other XCOM and TFTD versions) you can overflow the variable that holds the number of engineers. If you go over 255 engineers in a base the number listed in the base will be negative. If you have them all on some projects, you can keep them. However, if the project ends or you try to move them around, you will lose up to 255 engineers and have to hire them again. Keeping them past the end of the month has not been tested yet. Don't go over 254 engineers in a base. This doesn't count transfers until they arrive.